Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

PBS Airdate: November 13, 2007
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Chapter 10

NARRATOR: Throughout the trial, Judge Jones would never tip his hand about which way he was leaning on whether intelligent design is science. But science was not the only issue before the court.

The climax of the trial would be the judge's ruling on a question stemming from a different line of evidence: "When they introduced intelligent design into the classroom, were members of the Dover School Board motivated by religion?" If so, that would amount to a violation of part of the First Amendment to the Constitution, the establishment clause, which mandates the separation of church and state.

STEPHEN HARVEY: In order to prevail, we needed to prove either that the school board acted for the purpose of promoting religion or that its policy has the effect of promoting religion. It's either purpose or effect, either one.

JUDGE JOHN E. JONES, III: The establishment clause says that Congress cannot pass a law which promotes one religion over another. And that trickles all the way down to any state action, and in this case, the actions of a school board.

NARRATOR: But what evidence was there that the school board was motivated by religion? Months before the trial, when Bertha Spahr had unpacked the boxes containing the 60 copies of Pandas given by an anonymous donor, she found a clue.

BERTHA SPAHR: I was directed by the administration to unpack the boxes, count the books, stamp and number them. In the bottom of the box I found a catalogue. I opened the catalogue to see what they had to say about the book in question. And at the very top of the catalogue was listed under "Creation Science." This'd certainly be a smoking gun and would be a benefit to us somewhere down the road.

NARRATOR: This information was handed off to The National Center for Science Education. The N.C.S.E. was helping the lawyers who were arguing to keep intelligent design out of Dover High School.

Knowing Of Pandas and People would be central to the case, Nick Matzke investigated the book.

NICK MATZKE: When the court case was filed and Pandas was adopted in the policy, it became clear that Pandas was going to be the representative of intelligent design for the purposes of this case. And so the history of that book became important, the arguments it made became important. And we undertook to dissect these various aspects in preparation for the case.

NARRATOR: Matzke dug into Pandas, examining it page by page and scouring the Internet to see what he could unearth about its history.

Rummaging through the N.C.S.E. archives one day, Matzke came across a creationist student newspaper from 1981. At the bottom of the front page, he noticed a tiny article with a headline announcing, "Unbiased Biology Textbook Planned." And that article mentioned that a man named Charles Thaxton, now a fellow at the Discovery Institute, was working on a book that would present "both evolution and creation."

NICK MATZKE: The academic editor was Charles Thaxton, who was the editor of the Pandas book, so it was clear that that ad was referring to the Pandas project. What was interesting is that it talked about the book being about "creation and evolution" instead of the later terms, "intelligent design and evolution."

NARRATOR: If they could show Pandas started out as a creationist book, that would suggest intelligent design is simply creationism repackaged and therefore inherently religious.

Matzke emailed this information to Eric Rothschild, who immediately issued a subpoena to the publisher of Pandas for any drafts the book went through before printing. In a few months, they received two boxes of material. The lawyers sent them to Barbara Forrest. A philosophy professor and author who has been tracking intelligent design for years, she was scheduled to testify in the trial.

BARBARA FORREST: Oh, my goodness, those two boxes contained about 7,000 pieces of paper. I had to sit down with those documents and just start flipping through them, which is what I did day and night.

NARRATOR: After much digging, she hit pay dirt. Buried in these documents were two drafts of Pandas straddling the 1987 case of Edwards versus Aguillard, in which the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to teach creationism in public school science class. One draft was written before the case and the other revised just after.

BARBARA FORREST: In the first 1987 draft, which is the pre-Edwards draft, the definition of creation reads this way "Creation means that various forms of life began abruptly, through the agency of an intelligent creator, with their distinctive features already intact: fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks and wings, et cetera." The same definition in this draft, after the Edwards decision, reads this way: "Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact: fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, et cetera." Same definition, just one is worded in terms of creationism, the other one worded in terms of intelligent design.

NICK MATZKE: Everyone said intelligent design is creationism re-labeled. Never in our wildest dreams, though, did we think that this would actually be recorded in paper in a way that could be documented in a court case.

ERIC ROTHSCHILD: And that became probably our best single piece of evidence at trial.

NARRATOR: Barbara Forrest's testimony would make a strong case that the Dover school board was thrusting religion into the classroom. And in comparing the Of Pandas and People drafts, Forrest discovered that the authors had apparently made their revisions in haste.

BARBARA FORREST: In cleansing this manuscript, they failed to replace every word properly. I found the word "creationists." And instead of replacing the entire word, they just kind of did this, and got "design proponents" with the "c" in front and the "ists" in the back from the original word.

NICK MATZKE: So the correct term for this transitional form is "Cdesign proponentsists." And everyone now refers to this as the "missing link" between creationism and intelligent design. You've got the direct physical evidence there of a transitional fossil.

NARRATOR: Barbara Forrest's testimony not only traced the creationist lineage of Pandas. Citing a Christian magazine's interview, Forrest let one of the intelligent design movement's own leaders, Paul Nelson, speak for himself.

BARBARA FORREST: The question he was asked was, "Is intelligent design just a critique of evolutionary theory or does it offer something more? Does it offer something that humankind needs to know?" This is his answer: "Easily, the biggest challenge facing the I.D. community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don't have such a theory right now, and that's a real problem. Without a theory, it's very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we've got a bag of powerful intuitions and a handful of notions, such as irreducible complexity, but as yet, no general theory of biological design."

WITOLD "VIC" WALCZAK: The evidence she bought into that courtroom really exposed the hypocrisy of the intelligent design movement in a way that's irrefutable. You know, she used their own language, things that they had written and said, to show that they themselves knew that this isn't science.

NARRATOR: And on the stand, Michael Behe was asked how he would define science.

ERIC ROTHSCHILD (Dramatization): Dr. Behe, using your definition, intelligent design is a scientific theory, correct?

MICHAEL BEHE (Dramatization): Yes.

ERIC ROTHSCHILD (Dramatization): Under the same definition, astrology is a scientific theory, using your definition, correct?

MICHAEL BEHE (Dramatization): Using my definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to observable physical data and logical inferences. There are many things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect, which would fit that definition. Yes, astrology is, in fact, one, and so is the ether theory of the propagation of light, and many other, many other theories as well.

ERIC ROTHSCHILD (Dramatization): The ether theory of light has been discarded?

MICHAEL BEHE (Dramatization): That is correct.

ERIC ROTHSCHILD (Dramatization): But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory?

MICHAEL BEHE (Dramatization): Yes, that's correct.

WITOLD "VIC" WALCZAK: You know, when you loosen the rules around what is science and permit the supernatural, permit deities, you are really destroying what makes science so vitally important to the progress that our civilization has witnessed over the last four or five hundred years. You're going back before the scientific revolution. And, you know, that's a pretty scary thing.

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